It was Benjamin Franklin who gave us the axiom that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” He might have added tempus fugit, or that time flies. Here we are again, another New Year, launching a journey into the unknown, trusting it will end well. As I’ve done the last three years, I am posting my annotated draw-bag list of anticipated reads, fiction and non-fiction, drawn from the finest sources. Covering a wide range, they excel in delivering counsel, encouragement, enjoyment and, yes, sanctuary. Keeping a list has kept my reading disciplined and meaningful—the very best books, nothing less. Perhaps this list or one of your own will do the same for you. HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! —rj

Fiction

Akhtar, Aryad. Homeland Elegies A Novel. (Akhtar’s second novel, a probing critique of America’s embraced narratives.)

Beaty, Paul. The Sellout. (First American to win Man Booker Prize, Beaty’s satiric novel depicts an isolated Black protagonist, whose case ultimately goes before the Supreme Court.)

Boyd, William. Any Human Heart. (Boyd’s sprawling novel and popular BBC dramatization sure to draw you in, and a reread for me. It’s that good. )

Butler, Samuel. The Way of All Flesh. (V. S. Pritchett called this book “the bomb of Victorian literature.” A clergyman loses his faith.)

Byatt, A. S. Possession. (Exhilarating Man Booker Prize intellectual novel of love and mystery.)

Camus. The Plague. (The classic more relevant than ever.)

Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep. (I never tire of a good mystery, and Chandler, the great master, never disappoints.)

Chaudhuri, Amit. Odysseus Abroad (Along with Salmon Rushdie, Chaudhuri ranks among India’s most prominent writers in English. With seven novels, this work is a good place to begin your acquaintance).

Herbert, Frank. Dune. (Among the most widely read science fiction novels, an exploration of a future interstellar landscape.)

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. (A cogent examination of the way we live our lives.)

Leilani, Raven. Luster. (The adultery novel, successor to Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, finds updated boldness in Leilani’s first novel. On Barak Obama’s reading list for 2020.)

Márquez, Gabriel García. One Hundred Years of Solitude. (The great master’s timeless novel.)

Pritchett, V. S. Short Stories. (Famed man of letters, especially known for his short stories, essays, and crafted sentences.)

Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead. (A Pulitzer Prize winner, first in series of four novels by America’s internationally acclaimed literary fiction writer.)

Tharoor, Shashi. The Great Indian Novel. (An amalgam of myth, legend, folklore and anecdote in a retelling of Indian history from its ancient beginnings to its present day.)

Trevor, William. The Stories of William Trevor. (Now an established literary presence, Trevor’s collected short stories will unceasingly delight.)

Yanagihara, Hanya. A Little Life. (National Book Award Finalist and NPR Best Book, 2015), four friends grapple with hopes, fears, and unspeakable losses.)


Non-Fiction

Arana, Marie. Bolivar: American Liberator. (Outstanding biography of Simon Bolivar, the South American revolutionary often compared to Washington.)

Benedict, Ruth. Patterns of Culture (Classic delineation of cultural patterns, drawing on Nietzsche’s Apollonian-Dionysian dichotomy).

Davis, Wade. Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures (Renowned anthropologist Davis explores unique indigenous versions of life and humanity’s loss consequent with tribal extinction.)

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs & Steel. (I have been aspiring for some time to read this best selling popular science book, translated into 33 languages and a Pulitzer winner. Diamond brings a wealth of knowledge from many disciplines, explaining historical European dominance.)

Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus (Biblical scholar Ehrman chronicles his transition from belief in divine inspiration of the Bible to contradictory and falsified biblical texts.)

Frankl, Victor. Man’s Search for Meaning. (Holocaust survivor Frankl’s life-changing book on the aegis of human happiness.)

Gates, Bill. How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (An optimistic, sensible argument that we possess the wherewithal to mitigate climate change apocalypse.)

hooks, bell. All About Love: New visions (The late black feminist’s acclaimed book defining love as it should be.)

Levi, Primo. If This is a Man. (A classic, riveting holocaust story of survival replete with resonant insights engendered through duress.)

Mance, Henry. How to Love Animals: In a Human-Shaped World. (A beautifully written, candid appraisal of humanity’s relationship to the animal world.)

Mishra, Pankai. Bland Fanatics. (Sixteen essays offering a revised reading of Western history in the context of racial exclusion.)

Orwell, George. A Collection of Essays. (I have always appreciated Orwell as one of our supreme essayists, forthright, prescient insights, and style mastery.)

Shapiro, James. Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past And Our Future. (A Shakespeare scholar offers timely Shakespearian nuance for a troubled nation.)

Solnit, Rebecca. Orwell’s Roses. (An exploration of both Orwell’s political rage and his consummate love for cultivating roses, revealing a fascinating inner dimension. Solnit never disappoints. Makes me want to visit his Hereford cottage.)

Steele, Andrew. Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old. (Exploration of future expansion of longevity and well-being. This book will get you moving.)

Williams, Joy. Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals. (Essays by a short-listed National Book Award and Pulitzer nominee.)

Wilson, E.O. Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (The last in the eminent biologist’s trilogy, it offers bold strategies to save earth and ourselves.)

Wulf, Andrea. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (Wulf’s illuminating biography of the father of modern environmentalism, selected as A Best Book of the Year (2016) by The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, Nature, Jezebel, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, New Scientist, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Evening Standard, The Spectator.)